EU Referendum

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Lots of people have written to me about the decision the British people will take on 23 June about whether we should remain in the European Union or leave.

General elections settle who will run the country for the next five years but this referendum on Europe will affect the future of our country for the rest of our lifetimes. It's a choice that will really matter.

I will be using my vote in favour of the UK remaining in the European Union because I think the case for staying in is strong.

Being part of the EU makes us more secure. It has brought peace to our continent after centuries of conflict. You only have to visit the graveyards of the First and Second World Wars to see the last resting place of two generations of young Europeans who perished fighting each other.

Being part of the EU has given us jobs, investment and economic growth. We are part of the world's largest single market - just under half our exports go to Europe - and as a result a great deal of investment has come into the UK. And because the EU has used the collective strength of all its members to negotiate good trade deals with around 50 other nations, this means that British businesses have a better chance of selling their goods to these countries too. Future trade deals negotiated through the EU will also help the UK to be in a much stronger position when it comes to exports in the years ahead. All of this means that families in Britain benefit from lower prices.

The Leave campaign cannot tell us what trade relationships would replace those we already have if we left; for example, would any deal cover services as well as manufactured goods and what barriers and punitive tariffs would British exporters face? I think that's a big risk.

Some argue that we should be like Norway, but in order to gain access to the single market Norway has to pay in about the same amount per head of population as we do and accept a lot of the EU’s rules as well as the free movement of workers. The only difference is that they don’t get any say whatsoever on the decisions that are made in Europe that affect them. So we would be exchanging what we have now for a situation in which we had far less influence over the rules. That doesn’t sound like a good deal to me.

The EU has also done a lot for British workers. We now have a right to paid holiday, limits on our working time, improved maternity and paternity leave and better protection for agency and temporary workers - all thanks to our membership – and this stops a race to the bottom on workers’ rights. But if we leave, I worry what a Tory Government would do to these protections on which people in the UK greatly rely.

Europe has given us practical benefits like a limit on expensive roaming charges when we use our phones in other EU countries; that’s the kind of deal that’s good for consumers and can only be achieved by working with others. We have cleaner beaches now and we are co-operating across national boundaries to prevent dangerous climate change. Being in the EU allows us to work and travel across the continent and get free or subsidised medical care. When we buy from online retailers like Amazon and the goods arrive from another European country our consumer rights are protected by European laws. And the European arrest warrant means that criminals can no longer escape justice by fleeing abroad - a really practical example of how working with our neighbours makes us safer.
 
Finally, there is the benefit of being part of the EU for our place in the world. The truth is that Britain's voice is stronger because we are in Europe. We need to work with our neighbours to deal with the international challenges we face whether that is the tragedy in Syria and flow of refugees, standing up to Russian aggression in Ukraine or fighting terrorism. Britain’s voice and global leadership is made stronger by being part of the EU, just as it is enhanced by being part of NATO and the UN Security Council.

Now, of course, the EU isn't perfect. It needs to change and it's only fair that people coming here from the EU will need in future to pay in first before they can receive in-work benefits and that there will be changes to the rules covering child benefit being sent back to other EU countries; both things that Labour called for in our election manifesto.

I know there's a lot of discussion about free movement and migration, but it does work both ways. Lots of British people seek employment elsewhere in the EU and European citizens coming here contribute a lot in taxes as well as working, for example, as nurses, lecturers, care workers or in manufacturing.

Finally, on sovereignty, we have chosen as a nation to work with others to improve the lives of our citizens and those of other countries, and by doing so we can see that remaining in the EU is best for jobs and security for the people of Britain.

 

Hilary Benn
MP for Leeds Central

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